Blame the lawyers!
For the first time, double-dipping Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs (D-Flatbush) explained why she already collects her $71,000 pension even as she continues to work for — and earn — a $104,500 salary from the New York State Legislature.
During a 45-minute, action-packed debate with challenger Michele Adolphe in the Downtown office of Community Newspaper Group last Thursday, Jacobs said she had every right to collect the money, and she would continue to do so.
“I was advised by counsel that it’s my money,” said the 73-year-old Jacobs. “The average voter should understand that it’s legal, and since it takes me into the next income bracket, I pay an enormous amount of tax on it, so the federal government should be appreciative.”
Since, 2008, Jacobs has collected the pension thanks to a loophole in state law that allowed its legislators who reach the age of 65 to collect the post-retirement cash prior to actual retirement. In 1995, the loophole was filled — but only for legislators elected after 1995. So Jacobs, along with a few other legislators, including Long Island Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg and upstate Assemblyman John McEneny, are collecting it.
Jacobs said she does enough to earn both paychecks, because she treats her position as a full-time job, despite the fact that the state only considers it part-time work. In addition, many of her colleagues work second jobs to supplement their income. She does not.
“It’s not like I’m taking something for nothing,” Jacobs noted.
But Adolphe — in her fourth try to unseat the 16-term Jacobs — said that doesn’t wash.
“Why should legislation allow lawmakers to do it?” she said. “I feel people are making laws in Albany for their own best interests.”
Still, Jacobs said voters have already decided that she is not doing anything inappropriate.
“The average voter in the 42nd Assembly District knows this, knows me, knows where I’m coming from, knows what I’ve been doing for them for years,” she said. “They have made the decision many times.”
But DoubleDipGate wasn’t the only mud slung during the debate, facilitated by CNG editor Gersh Kuntzman with reporters Tom Tracy and Helen Klein [full disclosure: that’s me] on the panel, as both candidates fired a number of shots across the other’s bow:
• Jacobs accusing Adolphe of never filing her campaign finance disclosure with the state during her runs for office. “You finally filed for 2006 in 2010,” Jacobs said. “That breaks the law. This is someone running for office again and again, who’s broken the law.”
“I don’t break the law, Assemblywoman,” Adolphe retorted. “I’m an insurgent, and sometimes I file late.
• Adolphe charged that during her decades in office, Jacobs has let quality-of-life in the neighborhood drop off precipitously, particularly when it comes to constituent services. “To this date, we do not have a public library in our district,” Adolphe said. “We do not have a community center in our district. Forget about senior care in the district.” Jacobs rejected the argument based on the realities of gerrymandering. “Every time the district lines change, you can’t pick up the libraries and move them into the district,” she said. “However, we are surrounded by four or five libraries, so you really ought to get another campaign issue.”
• Adolphe also complained that Jacobs’ two offices were not conveniently located — and that one wasn’t even in the district. Jacobs countered that her offices are located close to public transportation, and that the Cortelyou Road office is just one block outside the district, and is provided to her for free by Assemblyman Jim Brennan (D—Flatbush), whose district borders hers.
Given the opportunity to point out some of her legislative accomplishments, Jacobs rattled off a trove of what she considered to be an exemplary list of achievements.
Among them, she said, were adding state funding to the federal WIC program, so more mothers and children could receive healthy food, as well as a law requiring insurance companies to pay for mammograms, and the Consumer Bill of Rights for managed care.
“One of the first things I did when I got to Albany was [legislation] creating child care on SUNY and CUNY campuses,” Jacobs said.
In another arena, federal Child Health Plus legislation that guarantees health care to children was predated by a similar law in New York, she also said. “Guess whose name was on the legislation?” Jacobs went on. “Mine.”
Jacobs has flirted with retirement but, even now, she declined to say whether this term would be her last, should she be re-elected. “I am considering it,” she said, pointing out that district lines will be redrawn before the next election, a circumstance that may spur her finally to bow out.
The primary will be held on Sept. 14th.